This story is by Joseph Gabriel Topp and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Stallion and the Mare lived on the resplendent golden-green plains of the Midwest. Stretching fields of wild grasses and grains rolled deep into the horizon. The Stallion and the Mare’s herd meandered these plains and enjoyed the easy life they found here. The jet-black Stallion towered over the Herd and kept them safe and moving around the wilderness. His chestnut Mare traveled always near to him. Their love gave them a chestnut-black spotted Foal, as if a tired painter splattered the two colors onto a canvas and tried to hastily wipe it away.
Crystal rivers wound through the plains and burst with life. Wild salmon and trout, bullfrogs and cranes, coyotes and hares and the Herd lived along the winding edge of the river. It remained this way for many years. The Herd frolicked among the other living things as the Sun sent its dazzling rays to the earth. But the Stallion knew the warning signs of change creeping westward across the plains. He knew things could never stagnate for long, but a sudden great thing marched towards them at alarming speed.
Flocks of Geese in their arrow-head formations sped from the east, great Herds of Bison, crowded and unruly followed close behind, but the Stallion did not heed these warnings. He believed his Herd could withstand the coming danger. But what he saw in the coming days terrified him. Great wooden wagons, drawn by his kin meandered across the plains he called home, crushing the golden-green grasses beneath. Deep treads were only carved deeper by the dozens of wagons creeping onward. Large wooden structures were put up by clearing the little forests that dotted the land, sending the Squirrels and Deer running in fear.
“My love,” said the Mare to her Stallion. “We must follow the Bison and Geese west, so these beasts do not take us like they have our kin. If they settle here, we will find new plains and new rivers beyond this place, beyond their reach.”
“My love,” replied the Stallion to his Mare. “Their reach knows no bound, wherever we go, they will follow. We must stay, and show our strength to them, so we might live and prosper a while longer.”
The Sun blazed overhead. The following days the Stallion led the Herd further up the winding river than ever before. But his Foal and the other foals amongst the Herd soon grew weary of the constant traveling. The Stallion chose a deep valley beneath two hills to rest. As he lay in the tall grasses, slowly chewing, his Foal crept up to him in a shy manner.
“Father,” the Foal began to his Stallion. “Why does our kin march with the wagons?”
“My son they do not march out of love or kindness or curiosity or want. They have been stolen and broken into those ways. Like a river forced from its natural course, or a boulder rolling up a hill. Do not mistake their calmness for wanting, understand it is hopelessness that keeps them bound and broken.”
“What will happen if we are stolen and broken?”
The Stallion looked into the deep browns of his Foals eyes. “I am the Greatest Stallion at the head of the greatest Herd to roam these lands. I nor any other of these kin will break. Our spirits are free, and so are the taken, they just need the courage to follow it.”
The Foal stood and left the Stallion to his thoughts. The Sun sank beneath the higher peak of the two hills and soon a bright Harvest Moon rose in its place. The full heavenly brightness of it lit up the landscape around the Stallion. He rose from his place and walked slowly around his Herd, stopping briefly by the side of his Mare and Foal. The former stirred as he stood overhead.
“There are many in this Herd who love you, but none as great as me,” the Mare said. “Many have captured my eye, but no other has captured my heart. Do what you must, my love, for the good of the Herd.”
The Stallion understood her words. “It is not enough to live while standing, but to understand how to live while falling.”
The Stallion moved away from the Herd and climbed the tallest hill, and beneath the burning Harvest Moon waited. Five came to him, Men from the new Settlement. They took him, and he did not resist, as he led them away from his Herd. His heart longed, but his spirit knew this was the only way. They brought him to a dull red barn, a huge area had been cleared for it, but it only took a small portion of the land. The Stallion felt a bubbling of anger rising in his chest as they forced him into a wide stall within the building. Here, the light of the full moon shone softly threw slits in the paneling.
The Stallion pressed his face against it, focusing on the moon hanging in the night sky and thinking about the trials which lay ahead. He heard a soft hiss behind him and an all-too familiar rattle. The Stallion whipped around to face the sound, eyes wide, he spotted the serpent next to the gate of his stall.
“I was told they brought in a stallion, but I did not think it would be you,” said the serpent.
“Rattlesnake,” replied the Stallion as it bowed its large head to its front hoof. “It is good to see you again.”
“How did you come to be captured by these beasts?”
“I came willingly,” he admitted. “I needed to protect my Herd from discovery, so I led the Men away.”
The Rattlesnake curled into a tight ball, tongue whipping the air in front of its diamond head. “So now the great Stallion will be broken. What of your Herd then? Have you forgotten that in the midst of a roaring river, faltering means death? You Herd needs you, Stallion, your Mare, your Foal.”
“If you think I shall be so easily broken then you have not known the spirit that resides within me. I know of the breaking, of the hopeless, but I know more of the love of my Herd. Without me, they will falter and shall drown, but without my Herd, I am doomed to a much worse fate than death. That of knowing what I am but being entirely different from my purpose. I will not draw wagons nor plow fields I will keep my Herd and they shall keep me.”
The Rattlesnake bowed without a word and slithered away through a small hole in the wood paneling of the stall. The Stallion sighed and laid down, resting as the pale light of the Harvest Moon glowed through the night.
* * *
The morning came with the clattering of the stall door and the entering of a single Man. The Stallion stood to his full height and the Man backed away from him. He put a leather strap around the Stallion and led him to a small enclosure with tall wooden fences. Here the Man tied him and led him around in circles. He felt the fury building in his chest but calmed his nerves for now.
Upon the hill overlooking this settlement, the very one he was stolen from, his Mare and Foal appeared. The bright easterly sun behind them, he could feel their gazes upon his flesh. He heard the soft rattle nearby, Rattlesnake watched on. The Man stood by his side, grabbed his flowing mane, and leapt onto the back of the Stallion. His Herd watched on, lining the hilltop; anger flooded him, strength from the others poured into him. His body relented against the breaking and released his rage. Bucking, he suddenly reared, sending his head vertical to his tail. He felt the Man crash into the dirt below.
He galloped towards the fence that stretched over his head. No other has captured my heart, the words rang in his mind. He leapt, punching the ground with his rear hoofs, and sending a shower of dirt cascading through the enclosure. The Stallion felt his stomach graze the fence, but he landed free. Without turning he galloped to his Herd who reared at the sight of his great mass barreling towards them.
The Stallion skidded to a halt by his Mare and Foal, “My love and my Foal, if not for you I would have been broken.”
The Mare nuzzled against him, “My love, strength does not come from without, but from within. No Fish can tame the raging River, just as no Man can tame my Stallion. Come, your Herd awaits.”
And so, the Stallion and the Mare, along with their Foal and Herd went on to graze the resplendent golden-green plains of the Midwest; for the strength of the Stallion was the strength of the Herd, and the love of them both kept them keen and strong.